A voice for wildflowers:Marin City photographers see their work as ‘art to action’ on climate change
April 08, 2021 • Leave a Comment
By Vicki Larson MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL Mach 27, 2019
Melting ice caps, drought, rising sea levels and wildfires are what usually come to mind when we hear about climate change.
Photographers Nita Winter and Rob Badger would like you to think about wildflowers instead.
Not because they’re beautiful to look at, but because climate change is changing their habitat and that has huge consequences for all sorts of wildlife that depend on them.
A Rufous hummingbird gathers nectar from a scarlet fritillary plant at Upper Table Rocks in Oregon.
A collection of their wildflower photography and native landscapes will be on display in a traveling exhibit, “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change,” at Sausalito’s Bay Model from April 2 through June 1, in conjunction with the Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society.
The longtime Marin City couple, both professionally and personally, are also working on a coffee table book by the same name featuring their work and essays by various writers and scientists.
Tiburon Mariposa lily, endemic to Ring Mountain Marin County Open Space District.
Badger first got interested in photographing wildflowers in 1992, while visiting Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve while it was in the middle of a super bloom.
“It was just an incredible bloom with a great variety of flowers. I’d never seen anything like that before,” says Badger, who has been a longtime nature and environmental photographer.
Calypso orchids, also known as fairy slipper or Venus' slipper, photographed at Mount Tamalpais State Park.
It impressed them so much that when there was another “100 Year” bloom six years later, they spent a month photographing wildflowers in Death Valley, Joshua Tree and Anza Borrego parks.
“At that point we were completely hooked and said, OK, let’s focus on this,” Winter says.
Marin City photographers Rob Badger and Nita Winter have been working on a 17- year project, "Beauty and the Beast: Wildflowers and Climate Change."
But they didn’t want to just focus on wildflowers without a purpose; they were looking for a way to use their photography to help further their commitment to creating healthy communities, whether for humans or the natural world.
When they connected about eight years ago with Blue Earth Alliance, a nonprofit that provides funding for documentary photographers and filmmakers whose work highlights environmental and social issues, the couple found their mission — to use their wildflower imagery to educate, attract attention and inspire people to take action against climate change.
“Climate change was coming more into the fore of people’s awareness and I was really curious how was this going to affect the wildflowers in the state,” Badger says.
Limantour Lagoon at Point Reyes National Seashore at sunrise.
It wasn’t too hard to see what years of drought and years of intense rains have done to our wildflowers, they say.
Wildflower habitats are slowly being invaded by non-local and non-native species as the climate changes, they note. This is affecting the timing of regularly occurring, seasonal events such as snow melt and leafing, known as phenology, and the wildlife that depend on those events for survival.
“For example, hummingbirds migrate from one place to the other looking for food knowing that the flowers will be there to give them nectar to fuel them on their migration. Well, as climate change happens and the snow melt comes earlier, spring comes earlier; by the time the birds get there, the flowers have already germinated and gone to seed and withered and died,” Badger, 71, says. “So the whole phenology, the timing, has changed.”
Tidy tips wildflowers at dusk atop Ring Mountain Open Space Reserve.
“We’re really concerned about their survival,” adds Winter, 64, whose “Faces” project, featuring portraits of Marin City, Canal and Novato residents to highlight the county’s diversity, lined Marin’s streets in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
Badger and Winter hope their works inspire others to see the importance of wildflowers so they’ll be concerned about their survival, too.
Fog flows into lower Tennessee Valley as seen from the Coastal Trail at the Golden Gate National Recreation
So far, more than 40,000 people across the state have seen their wildflower photographs since they were first exhibited in January 2016 at the San Francisco Main Library.
“An extremely important part of the exhibit is its educational aspect,” Badger says.
“We call it art to action,” Winter says. “It’s in our blood. We have to do it.”
Western azalea wildflower blossoms along Old Stage Road atop Mount Tamalpais.
On their website, the couple note that some predict we may lose 20 to 30 percent of our native plant species by the end of the century if the impacts of climate warming aren’t addressed quickly.
Still, they say they see hope in wilderness and wildflowers.
“Our goal is to give people a truly enjoyable experience when they see the beauty that is on our public lands. Almost all the photography we’ve done has been on public lands,” Badger says.
“The purpose of the exhibit is basically to inspire appreciation for the beauty and the life that’s out there, and to inspire action with regard to conservation and climate change. And to enjoy doing it, to find joy, some satisfaction in just doing the smallest thing.”
Great red paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) photographed at the Inyo National Forest.
IF YOU GO
What: “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change”
Where: Bay Model Visitor Center, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito
When: April 2 through June 1, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.Tuesdays through Saturdays
Published by: Marin Independent Journal
“Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change” traveling exhibit which just opened at the Los Altos History Museum. Check on the museums restricted hours and make a reservation before visiting the exhibit. https://www.losaltoshistory.org/exhibit/beauty-and-the-beast/
Our virtual talk: 27 Year Wildflower Journey, hosted by the museum, is scheduled for 5 PM, March 18th, 2020. It is one of three related talks, including What is Citizen Science? by one of our authors, Mary Ellen Hannibal, at 5 pm on Earth Day, April 22nd.
Keywords: book, California, climate change, close-ups, exhibit, fine art photography, landscapes, mountains, national parks, Nita Winter, photography, public land, Rob Badger, San Francisco Public Library, wildflowers
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